The seasonal cycle and interannual variability in stratospheric temperatures and links to the Brewer-Dobson circulation: An analysis of MSU and SSU data

Paul J. Young, David W. J. Thompson, Karen H. Rosenlof, Susan Solomon, Jean-Francois Lamarque

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Previous studies have shown that lower-stratosphere temperatures display a near-perfect cancellation between tropical and extratropical latitudes on both annual and interannual time scales. The out-of-phase relationship between tropical and high-latitude lower-stratospheric temperatures is a consequence of variability in the strength of the Brewer–Dobson circulation (BDC). In this study, the signal of the BDC in stratospheric temperature variability is examined throughout the depth of the stratosphere using data from the Stratospheric Sounding Unit (SSU).

While the BDC has a seemingly modest signal in the annual cycle in zonal-mean temperatures in the mid- and upper stratosphere, it has a pronounced signal in the month-to-month and interannual variability. Tropical and extratropical temperatures are significantly negatively correlated in all SSU channels on interannual time scales, suggesting that variations in wave driving are a major factor controlling global-scale temperature variability not only in the lower stratosphere (as shown in previous studies), but also in the mid- and upper stratosphere. The out-of-phase relationship between tropical and high latitudes peaks at all levels during the cold-season months: December–March in the Northern Hemisphere and July–October in the Southern Hemisphere. In the upper stratosphere, the out-of-phase relationship with high-latitude temperatures extends beyond the tropics and well into the extratropics of the opposite hemisphere.

The seasonal cycle in stratospheric temperatures follows the annual march of insolation at all levels and latitudes except in the mid- to upper tropical stratosphere, where it is dominated by the semiannual oscillation. Mid- to upper-stratospheric temperatures also exhibit a distinct but small semiannual cycle at extratropical latitudes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6243–6258
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011


  • Stratospheric circulation
  • Stratosphere
  • Temperature
  • Satellite observations
  • Interannual variability
  • Seasonal cycle

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